How did they qualify?
In a league dominated by Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg were the best of the rest in the Bundesliga last season. Their second place finish was their highest placing since they won the league in 2008/09, and they have been rewarded for their efforts with a place in the Champions League group stages for the first time this decade. They have just lost Kevin De Bruyne – their star of last season – to Manchester City, but the reported £55m fee will have softened the blow.
Record in Europe:
The German side last appeared in the group stages of the Champions League six years ago, and came third in a group containing Manchester United, CSKA Moscow and Besiktas – Michael Owen’s hat-trick securing a 3-1 win for United at the Volkswagen Arena. Last season Die Wölfe reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League as they saw off Inter Milan before being knocked out by Napoli, and they reached the same stage of the competition in 2009/10 but fell victim to Roy Hodgson’s Fulham.
Who’s the boss?
Fifty-one-year-old Dieter Hecking is an experienced operator, and has managed across the German leagues since the turn of the millennium. He has been with Wolfsburg since Christmas 2012 having taken over from ex-Fulham boss Felix Magath, with the highlight of his time at the club so far being their German Cup win last season – a trophy they won after beating Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the final. Having managed at Hannover 96 and Nuremburg, Hecking’s pedigree in the domestic game is without question; whether he can translate this into European success is yet to be seen.
How they’ll play:
For many years Wolfsburg were seen as a bland, boring club – resented by many German fans as they are fully-owned by a company (Volkswagen) and with a mechanical style of play to match. Since the arrival of Hecking, however, they have transformed their style. They scored four or more times on five occasions in the Bundesliga last season, including successive away wins with scorelines of 5-4 and 5-3. Spearheaded by Bas Dost – who scored 16 Bundesliga goals last term – Wolfsburg are an exciting team full of talented players; the Germans represent the biggest threat to United’s hopes of topping the group.
Whilst losing De Bruyne was a massive blow for Wolfsburg, they moved quickly to replace him, splashing out a reported £25.5 million on Julian Draxler. The 21-year-old has been consistently linked with Arsenal for the past two seasons, but the former Schalke man has decided to remain in Germany. A winger who is comfortable with both feet, Draxler stands tall at 6ft 2in and has an explosive turn of pace. He made over 100 appearances for Schalke – hugely impressive at such a young age – and, crucially, has previous experience of playing in the Champions League. he proved his pedigree by notching the winner in the opening match against CSKA Moscow.